How Right-Wing Media Enable A Republican Senator's Crusade Against The Needy

Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

Right-wing media have repeatedly used dishonest and misleading charts from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to decry spending on nutrition assistance and other programs for needy Americans.

Fox News, Fox Nation, and The Weekly Standard have, over the course of many months, taken charts from Sessions' staff depicting spending on food stamps (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and other spending on low-income Americans in grossly misleading ways with out-of-context numbers. On June 12, Fox & Friends First cited Sessions when airing a graphic showing spending on SNAP being more than five times greater than spending on veterans job training and education programs:

Similar charts appeared on Fox Nation and The Weekly Standard. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projection that is cited on the graph does not list any spending on veterans job training and education, so that number cannot be verified. But the White House projects that spending on this program will increase over the next five years, after it already grew dramatically after 2009 -- while spending on SNAP is projected to decrease over the same five-year period.

But it is ridiculous to compare a veterans education program -- which is limited to only military veterans and thus a very small segment of the population -- to SNAP, which is an income security program (indeed, it is listed as such in the CBO document) and is open to every American that meets eligibility requirements. And many veterans and their families are eligible for SNAP and active-duty service members and their families use the benefits. But if one was to look at income security spending for veterans, CBO projections show that more is actually spent on veterans -- a total of $801 billion on income security for veterans over 10 years, and a much larger amount than the veterans program highlighted by Sessions and the right-wing media.

During the segment, Fox Business' Diane Macedo noted that "the USDA also provides bonuses totaling about $50 million per year to states that meet high enrollment targets." These awards, which Sessions brought up on Fox News in June 2012, date back to the Bush administration, and have their origin in the 2002 farm bill. 

Back in October 2012, Fox Nation and The Weekly Standard posted another incredibly dishonest chart credited to Sessions' office that purported to compare rises in various forms of aid, including food stamps, to needy people while employment supposedly shrank since the end of 2008:

The chart used employment data from the end of 2008 as its starting point, when the country was in the middle of a recession, and employment had already been shrinking over the course of the year. And disability enrollment has been increasing since the 1990s, while Medicaid and SNAP enrollment steadily rose throughout the Bush administration. But on October 11, 2012, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that the chart showed that "welfare programs are outpacing job growth."

Later that October, Fox News helped Sessions push a misleading definition of welfare to make the claim that welfare is the United States' largest budget item by combining 83 wildly separate programs that help low-income Americans -- such as Pell Grants, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and the Head Start program -- and claimed all of it was welfare. In fact, welfare is traditionally understood as the single Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which as CNNMoney noted, "is what welfare turned into in 1996." Glenn Kessler, writer of The Washington Post's Fact Checker blog, also criticized Sessions' definition of welfare that appeared in a separate chart from his office, because Sessions is including health insurance programs such as Medicaid. According to Kessler, "health-care spending is different from food stamps or the earned income tax credit in that such aid generally does not add to a family's income level; instead, such assistance helps pays for bills that are the direct result of how sick or disabled a patient is." The chart Kessler criticized appeared on The Weekly Standard and The Daily Caller.

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